The Pumpkin Eater DVD
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Directed by Jack Clayton
Produced in 1964
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
Julian Upton is hugely impressed by this study of a couple in crisis directed by Jack Clayton, adapted by Harold Pinter and starring Anne Bancroft.
Watching The Pumpkin Eater, you wonder if the silver screen was ever graced with another face as beautiful ó and as beautifully pained ó as Anne Bancroftís. The whole story of a dissolving marriage is played out on her porcelain skin; her regal, glacial features reflect every indignity a philandering husband can inflict on a wife.
This is a close-up study of affluent agony in well-to-do Hampstead. Bancroft is remarkable as the strongly maternal but emotionally fragile Jo, onto her third husband and her fifth child but still plagued by overwhelming loneliness and a longing to be loved completely. Husband Jake (Peter Finch) is a screenwriter; heís dashing and charismatic but also stern and distant in that enigmatic, masculine way. Heís loving when he wants to be, but heís having affairs and Jo canít deal with it; her answer is to have yet another baby. Their resulting arguments escalate into violence; later, Jo has a nervous breakdown in the middle of Harrodís food hall.
This may sound like just a superior slice of soap, but itís much more than that. Itís adapted from a Penelope Mortimer novel by Harold Pinter, and the dialogue has his stamp all over it. The Servant notwithstanding, itís probably his most successful stab at screenwriting: this is as much Pinter as there has been on the screen outside the straight adaptations of his own plays. The characters donít converse, they mark out their territory; they intimidate, seduce and manipulate. Only Jo seems to have love in her heart, and she is largely silent. But does she need too much love? Her fragility borders on the self-absorbed, the chronically self-pitying; Pinter doesnít shy away from that interpretation.
But it is Jack Clayton, that unsung hero of sixties film-making, who is key to The Pumpkin Eaterís power and grace; his direction is arty but unself-conscious. He understands actors and he understands the camera. Itís a shame he didnít collaborate with Pinter more often ó he has as much, if not more, assurance than Joseph Losey.
This is one of British cinemaís few truly grown-up films.
Julian Upton on 30th September 2009
Author of 150 reviews
In her fourth marriage, Jo (Anne Bancroft) finds out that her husband (Peter Finch) is having an affair. When he explains that he finds nothing wrong with his behaviour, Jo must decide whether to keep the marriage for the sake of her children, or strike out on her own.
Publisher: Sony Pictures
Length: 105 mins
Aspect ratio: 4:3
Region: 2, 4, 5
Cat No: CDR19271
Format: DVD B&W
Subtitles: English HOH
SUSPENSE 13 films
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